How much do you love chocolate brownies? Well let me tell you as I sit here typing I’ve had both daughterlings come and ask me when they can eat these soft cherry brownies? They’ve only been out of the oven for two minutes but they’ve made the whole house smell all chocolatey. “They’re for New Years Eve” I told them as they skulked off as if they had to wait an eternity.
Brownies rock NYE
I’ve found that with this recipe these brownies taste good when still warm with a dollop of ice cream but if you can bare to wait they improve in richness if eaten a day after baking. I made these to take to a New Years Eve party this year where there will be other chocolate loving kids so I wanted to add a soft cherry flavour. Usually I add glacè or natural morello cherries but for this one I decided to make them quick and easy and used a tin of pitted cherries in juice. I drained the juice completely so they wouldn’t make the cake all gooey – well more gooey than it should be. I also didn’t cut them in half so when you eat them you get all that juicy flavour in one hit.
Line a 20x 30cm baking tin with silicon paper and pre-heat your oven to 180*C (160*C for fan ovens).
Place the eggs in a bowl and whisk up then add the sugar and combine. Set to one side.
Place the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat and when melted remove from the heat and add the broken up dark chocolate until it melts. Place over the heat if necessary but be sure to watch that it doesn't burn.
Measure and sieve the flour and cocoa into a separate bowl.
Add the chocolate to the egg and sugar mix and combine. Add the dry ingredients and fold in.
Stir in the drained pitted cherries then transfer to the cake tin.
Bake for 30 minutes. The top will start to form cracks. That shows it's ready to be removed from the oven.
Leave the tin on a rack to cool completely before removing the cake from the tin.
To cut neat portions place a large knife in hot water then dry before cutting each slice. The heat from the blade will slice easily through the whole brownie if you re-heat it each time.
So what are you baking for New Years Eve then? Last year I made a tart and the year before I made Tiramisu. Anything goes as long as it sees in a sweet new year and brings you plenty of joy and happiness.
Oooooh don’t you just love a mini Christmas cake? I made some last year as gifts and they went down really well. This time I decided to give them a touch of Jack Daniels and I have to say they are gooooood!
I made these ones for a local food bank on behalf of the charity I bake for Free Cakes For Kids. Lots of bakers have made lots of mini cakes so lots of families would have a special cake and it always feels great to be giving and baking for others at this time of year- don’t you think? If you want to join in the fun check out the FCFK website to find your local group. I’m yet to find a group of bakers who aren’t really friendly!
I made these cakes really last minute (meaning I didn’t start in October so I could ply the cake with alcohol) so I had few cheats. I soaked the fruit in the JD for a week before baking the cakes and once they were out of the oven I gave them another really good brush/soak with the good stuff. If you add the alcohol while the cake is still warm the liquid soaks right in. I think a Christmas cake still tastes great even if it hasn’t been drowned in alcohol for weeks or months before.
Once baked I decorated half the cakes with marzipan and white sugarpaste and the other half with just the sugarpaste so there were some nut free options – also so I could eat the marzipan that was left over.
How to decorate Christmas cakes the non traditional way.
I didn’t want to go for red or green decorations this year. My original plan was to have a little forrest of sugarpaste Christmas trees standing on top of the cakes but once I had decorated one I realised that they would be really difficult to transport to the food bank and for the families to take home too so I opted for a 2d version.
The Christmas tree decorations were made up a day ahead in pale blues, pink and white so that they could be layered up without drooping. The gingerbread men were also made up ahead of time. After 24 hours the faces were drawn on with a clever food dye pen in ‘liquorice’ black. The trees and gingerbread man were then stuck in place with a little royal icing.
To give the cakes a really professional finish I placed ribbon around the cake and wrapped them in cellophane. I was really happy with the end result. I hope the families will be too when they pick them up later this week.
I wrote this post before I delivered the cakes to the food bank. I feel now looking back that I brushed over the food bank part. For me this was supposed to be about sharing my recipe for a Jack Daniels Christmas cake. It is in fact about a lot more than that. There are so many people in need in our country and right on our door steps. You may not even be aware that there is a food bank on your high street, in your church or by your community centre. These places are amazing. They’re run mostly by volunteers and the people who need them are often in dire situations.
When I delivered these cakes I met with a band of very jovial volunteers who are loving and caring and so, so knowledgable. There was a young mum who was there as I dropped off. She was collecting a couple of blankets from the centre. She had been housed in the hostel around the corner. The week before she had left a violent relationship with nothing but the clothes on her back and her teenage daughter. She had nothing. She was housed in a hostel so they were safe. The hostel is an amazing resource with a bedroom and some furniture and a kitchen along one wall but that’s it. It’s very, very basic. No bedding, no plates, no comforts. I’m sure she was grateful for a safe and warm roof over her head but having just spent a few hundred quid on presents for my two daughters to then see this young woman with so little but still with a grateful smile on her face was incredible humbling.
So I’m asking you to do something and not just now – for the foreseeable future. When you’re doing your food shopping pop an extra tin of something or a bottle of shampoo in your basket and leave it in the food bank bins which are always situated just behind the checkout. All the big supermarkets have collection bins and the extra pound or two probably won’t make much of a difference to you but it will make a massive difference if we all do it for others.
I love making cakes for Evie. Apart from the fact that she’s lovely, she is ALWAYS smiling. She always says “hello” when we walk into school (and I mean says hello to me- not just Darcey!) and she always chooses fab cakes that I’ve never made before. This year she was having a swimming pool party – obviously! So a swimming pool cake was definitely the right choice of cake.
I’ve made a few cakes for Evie before and if you remember then you probably know that she’s coeliac. That’s why I love making her birthday cakes. You don’t get cakes like this in the supermarket. I basically use my Madeira cake recipe as seen in this chart and swap the flour quantity for 50% gluten free flour and 50% rice flour. I find that mixing up the same quantity of flour needed in a recipe with a mixture of gluten free flour, rice flour or almond flour comes out light and tasty.
Designing the Swimming pool cake
I wanted to keep the design simple so I made the main part of the cake the swimming pool. I baked a rectangular cake and cut it into three layers then cut away the centre of the top layer. Raspberry jam and buttercream were added and the whole cake was covered in pale blue sugarpaste. I had to make it quite thick to be able to handle getting into the corners of the pool.
I wrote ‘Evie’ in my fave script and left it to dry for a few days. I mixed it with some Tylo powder so it would really firm up (and quickly). A square cutter was used to make tiles which we placed around parts of the pool.
Rope was made with white sugarpaste strands which were twisted together and stuck on at the corners.
The splashes were made from a ball of sugarpaste which was brushed with gelatine to give it a glossy effect. The Evie was also brushed to give shine.
A life saving ring was made from white and red sugarpaste and left to harden.
To make the ‘water’ I made up some gelatine and let it cool before I spooned it into the pool. What I hadn’t banked on was that the tiles I had stuck in the bottom of the cake would bubble up and kind of soften and start to dissolve. Another thing I wasn’t expecting was how the gelatine would set. I thought it would just firm up like jelly. It didn’t. It wobbled a bit like jelly but when I had to drive the cake to the pool party it had moved and jiggled creating all these white lines. I was mortified but Evie’s mum said that the waves looked great. Pfew! Lucky save.
To finish off I added grey bars which I painted with edible silver paint and stuck them onto the side of the pool along with another life ring.
Having learnt my lesson making this mermaid cake I kept Evie in a little better proportion and just made the top half to place in the pool.
The bunting was literally a last minute idea made from decorative paper, string and two skewers.
I kinda like this cake. I think the water worked but it’s all the splashes and the ‘Evie’ in a big dribble of water that makes it for me. What do you think?
So go on then. How many times have you carved a pumpkin and don’t even bother to scoop out the insides? We’ve all done it but this year – like last, I scooped out enough to feed a small army and that was with just one daughterling. The other one didn’t even get her’s carved! Teenagers! So we have a whopper of a pumpkin to use and it’s the second week in November. So, I did what every good cake blogger does. I baked!
Every year I give my mum the pumpkin flesh as she makes killer chutney with it but this year I made a cake and still had plenty left over to share. This pumpkin cake is really moist and quite heavy. It’s a slow bake cake and is the kind you could use to stack for a tiered cake. Perfect for an October wedding cake maybe? Think of it as a carrot cake made with pumpkin. It’s topped with a cream cheese frosting – the recipe for which I got from Jane Curran, the food editor on Woman&Home. It’s the only cream cheese frosting recipe I use. It can’t be beaten. It also lasts a long time. Once decorated we were still eating this cake a week later and it was fine.
I know, I know. It’s been a while since I last posted. And even then the months before were a bit…. let’s just say sporadic. After 5 years of blogging practically every week I had a bit of a ‘moment’.
I stopped making birthday cakes for friends.
I stopped baking.
I just stopped everything.
So I thought I’d share what’s been going on and explain.
You see blogging takes a lot of time. Seriously a LOT. Apart from stopping to take shots of cakes I’m decorating – which seriously slows down to the whole 9 hour decorating process. It takes me around two hours to edit, label and tag the images, make openers and do all the behind the scenes SEO stuff and a further hour or two to write up the recipes and share the details. And my grown up work got busy. I just stopped finding the time. I didn’t get up at 6am at the weekend to do my blogging. I slept in. Something I never do.
So what happened?
At the beginning of the year I decided to start a cake podcast. I joined a podcasting community and got two terrific accountability partners. I had logos professionally designed. I bought a top notch microphone. I’d drawn up lists of all the great cake/bakers I could interview. The whole shbang. And then I felt flat. I wasn’t excited about it. I mean I REALLY wasn’t excited about it. Something wasn’t sitting right and I couldn’t put my finger on it. And then it hit me. I’m an Interior Stylist who bakes. I’m not a cake decorator or a real baker. I’m amateur and just because I have this terrific audience (and you are terrific) it doesn’t mean that’s what I want to be known for. I want to be known for my styling work. So I pivoted.
I had this sudden realisation that I wanted my podcast to be about Interiors. In doing a lot of thinking, planning and research I had my idea ready to execute but instead of just setting up a podcast it has turned into a fully fledged business idea. It has taken a lot of my time and a lot of planning but what actually happened is I just stopped baking and blogging in general. I’m still building that business idea now and it will be launching it at the end of the year.
Around this time my styling work got busy. The busiest it’s ever been. I went from shooting once or twice a month to shooting every week from the moment the girls went back to school in September till – well it’s still going on now in November. I’ve literally had back to back shoots with no time for anything else. It’s hard to explain my work as it’s all encompassing. It’s not the kind of thing you can just switch off from. I work from home and around my family’s needs and a lot of the time there are so many props in my house it looks like a junk yard! I use the kitchen as a painting studio and write my copy late into the night so I can do the gymnastics/drama/cubs/scout runs and I just haven’t had the desire or bandwidth to bake. These are a few shots of my kitchen mid shoot/press launch. Eughk!
I did bake. I baked a lot. Each time I thought “I should shoot that and share it on the blog” and it got eaten up so I didn’t. That’s happened a few times in the last few weeks and a strange thing happened. I got the joy of baking back. I find I’m looking for any excuse to bake. There’s a pumpkin cake, white, dark and cherry chocolate cookies and vanilla biscuits sitting in my kitchen right now. I have always found baking relaxing and now I think I will be putting a load of weight on!
So what I am trying to say is I am back but a little less often. I love writing this blog. It’s my baby. I know I have followers and I have lots of hits each month but I really didn’t think anyone would notice if I stopped writing and posting. I was wrong. So many people have asked if the blog was broken or if I had given up or why they weren’t receiving posts anymore. I nearly did give it up. I nearly sold this blog. But I couldn’t. I just love it too much.
So here’s to another five years or more of baking. Let’s get fat together!
If I get asked for one recipe (other than Madeira cake) over and over again it’s lemon cake. You guys seem to really love it. I haven’t made a ton of lemon cakes so I needed to find an opportunity to make one just so I could share it with you. Now, my ever expanding hips don’t want me to just make a cake and have it sitting looking at me every time I walk into the kitchen so I needed to have an opportunity to take it out of our house. I can’t for the life of me remember where I took this Lemon Victoria Sponge cake. I know there were kids involved and I know I had to apologize for having cut a slice to take photos and I then put it back again to take it with us. I don’t think any of my friends mind that one little bit!
The opportunity to make this Lemon Victoria Sponge Cake was also well timed as I needing to find a recipe that I could use the brand spanking new baking tools from JosephJoseph on – you know the ones I was talking about last week in the lemon curd recipe? Well the two newest products are the Fin bowl scraper and the Glaze – fillable pastry brush. That is why this regular lemon Victoria Sponge cake became a whopper of a beast. Cake +lemon curd + creme fraiche + lemon syrup glaze!
The Fin is very easy to hold and manoeuvre around the inside of a bowl. As you can see from the photos above it leaves next to no cake mix once it’s been scraped around. This is one of those really handy bits of baking kit and in true JosephJoseph style it’s ergonomic and has a wide base so it will stand up on it’s own and not leave smears of cake mix all over your kitchen. The Glaze is going to be a very handy piece of kit for me. I add sugar syrup to all my Madeira cakes so this will make it a much cleaner and easier job. Glaze comes with two lids – one with lots of holes which is perfect for adding glazes and the other with one central hole which will make light work of egg washing pastry. The pastry brush simply fits over whichever lid you choose. The bottle is soft silicone so you can squeeze it to allow the contents to flow out to your desired speed. The bottle is really tactile as it’s so soft. You just want to squidge it.
As you can see from the shots above I used it to glaze the top of the cake and then not content with the amount of sugar already in this cake I proceeded to dribble even more lemon glaze over the sides! To say this was a sweet and tangy cake would be an understatement.
I’ve been using this fab tool to glaze my cakes and I simply pour the warm glaze into the bottle and then leave it to cool down before adding the lid and brush. It’s so much easier than using a pastry brush and bowl as you don’t get those sticky, sugary drips all over the place. The last point to make about the Fin is that the whole unit is dishwasher safe. No brainer really.